Students return to in-person concerts despite pandemic uncertainty


Darin Fields | Staff Writer

Students attend a concert at Stage AE to see alternative indie band Glass Animals.

By Darin Fields, For The Pitt News

The arts scenes in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, have been silent for months. Lively areas of the City, once filled with music and art, all underwent a near 15-month pause as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. Now as vaccination rates have gone up, music has filled the air once again.

As concerts and other forms of live music have begun to return to the City, one question lingers in the air — is the risk of exposure worth the experience? For Pitt students, there is a common feeling of cautious excitement about the return of concerts.

Abigail Medvic, a junior linguistics major, recently attended a concert at Stage AE to see alternative indie band Glass Animals. Medvic said she was not a big concert person before the pandemic.

“I’m not a big concert goer,” Medvic said. “But when I heard about this one, post-COVID, I had to go.”

Stage AE has been a nexus for the returning music scene in Pittsburgh. Big artists such as Don Toliver, BROCKHAMPTON and The Kid Laroi are all scheduled to make appearances at the venue in the next few months.

There are some concerns about hosting frequent, large-scale events in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, and in response to safety concerns, Stage AE has taken steps to minimize the spread at their events.

According to Medvic, all those in attendance at the concert were required to have either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours — along with a valid ID at the entrance gates. Starting Oct. 1, the venue will require proof of vaccination for all in attendance.

Despite not being used to the large crowd, Medvic said the vaccine requirements made her feel a little more secure in her decision to attend.
“It made me feel safer that everyone that got in was vaccinated,” Medvic said. “It was still a little weird being close to people in the crowd.”

The risk seems to be a continuing factor in many student’s decision to return to the music scene. Matthew Hornak, a sophomore international studies and economics major, has not yet been to a concert since before the pandemic but planned to see rapper Jack Harlow at the Roxian Theatre last Friday.

Hornak said he has some concerns about possibly spreading the virus, but he believes the risk is similar to that of attending a Pitt football game.

“I’m definitely concerned, but no more than I would be for a Pitt game,” Hornak said. “I think it’s gonna be kind of the same risk level, maybe a little more.”

Hornak was informed by a friend that the Roxian, like Stage AE, would also require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. He also plans on getting tested if he begins to experience any COVID-19 related symptoms after the concert.

Major venues like Stage AE and the Roxian are not the only places where live music has made a return. Music has begun to pop up around the City and in the streets of various neighborhoods, including Oakland, South Side and the Cultural District.

Michael Stolarz, a senior psychology and sociology major, said he has been listening to music around the City. He’s attended festivals like the Millvale Music Festival and the Three Rivers Arts Festival, where he’s also performed as a musician.

Stolarz, the percussionist of the alternative grunge band Yaro and the Static, said the group returned to performing this summer in various venues across the City. Stolarz said the return to live performance began to feel more normal as the summer went on.

“The first couple of shows definitely felt a little awkward, at least, different,” Stolarz said. “But over time it became more normalized.”

Stolarz said COVID-19 precautions at various venues became more relaxed over time. He said that masks were required at the start of the summer but he said now he rarely sees them. His band was asked only once to provide proof of vaccination at one of the venues in which they performed.

Stolarz said there is no doubt that risk is involved with returning to live performances, but he believes the risk is worth it for the live music.

“I do definitely understand there is a risk involved,” Stolarz said. “But knowing that I am personally vaccinated and my friends who are in the band with me or have gone to shows with me are also vaccinated, yeah I think live music is a necessary thing.”

Medvic said attending a concert is worth it as not only the fans, but also artists like Stolarz and his band have been waiting for the opportunity to perform to reemerge.
“I think it’s worth it if you’re vaccinated,” Medvic said. “It’s still not the best thing ever but I think it’s worth it because concerts are so fun, and these artists have been waiting to perform their music.”

The return of live music comes with a risk of further spread, especially as new variants begin to spread across the nation. Despite the risk, Stolarz said after more than a year and a half of separation, the return of live music could help bring people back together.

“Music brings people together in a way that only it can, in a unique way,” Stolarz said.

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